Postmortems are great tools for steady improvement.
At the end of any project or new initiative you simply revisit the objective and discuss what went well and what you would do differently next time.
A similar idea is the premortem. Project yourself into the future, past the project you are about to undertake, and imagine your project has failed. Now discuss the most likely reasons for that failure. (Premortems, incidentally, are a fantastic tool for uncovering objections in a sale.)
In the spirit of the premortem, I predict when we are through the COVID-19 pandemic and business is approaching normal (whatever that means), you will look back with some regrets. And like the majority of regrets, yours will be about the things you did not do, rather than the things you did.
Below, I share what I think those regrets are likely to be. If you identify with one or two of them then maybe you can find the motivation to address them now.
Let’s do this properly. Let’s jump forward into the future to a time when the world really has settled into a semblance of normal, you are busy again and the regret is real. What is your regret likely to be about? Here are four…
Future Regret #1: “I should have taken time off.”
I’m going to deal with this one first because I think your ability to escape the other future regrets outlined below depends on your mental state, and I’m guessing your mental state could be better than it is right now.
Face it, you are always on. Your work and home lives have blended together to the point where you no longer define your mode by your environment. If you are awake you are in some ways working, even when you are not. Your amygdala is firing on every stimulus, looking for signs that the end—or normalcy—is nigh. You exist in a steady state of low stress caused by the disruption and the uncertainty. You’re always a little bit tired. (“Maybe I have the virus? Honey, I think I have the virus.”)
Maybe you should have taken last week off. After all, how different was this week from last? Maybe you should have taken this week off. How different is this next week shaping up from the last?
You’re waiting for The Big Shift of when things snap back to normal. But The Big Shift is likely to be slow and still far away.
Even if I’m wrong, it can happen while you’re recharging for a few days. (It won’t.) Time when you are free from working or thinking deeply about work (including all work communications) is vital, even if it’s just weekends or extended weekends.
There will be a time when the next big wave is coming your way and you’re going to need your energy to paddle, get on top of it and ride, but you won’t have that energy if you don’t recharge now.
And let’s face it, you’re not going to take time off when you’re busy again, are you?
Make plans to unplug. Properly. Soon. Make them today then come back with the energy to avoid the other regrets below.
Future Regret #2: “I should have produced some content/built my audience.”
The projects that have been on your docket longest are the ones where you (the firm) are the client.
Constantly getting bumped for more urgent paying client work, projects like the blog, the new website or the YouTube channel you were going to launch are now unobscured by client projects. The reasons not to do them have been removed.
That book you were going to write as soon as you found the time? Well, if you didn’t get to it during the pandemic then you never are getting to it, are you?
When it comes to marketing, there are firms that do the work and firms that don’t. Most don’t. And the majority of those cite lack of time as the reason. That reason is gone.
If you don’t get content created now, you will have to accept you never will and adjust accordingly. Hire it out or keep leaning on old-school outbound sales for lead generation.
There’s never been a better time to do things of value for your clients and future clients via content creation. Many of those people are in learning mode, and you should be, too. See the next regret…
Future Regret #3: “I should have upgraded my (team’s) skillset.”
Many manufacturers that have been forced to idle their plants are using this downtime to retool by upgrading their technology or otherwise increasing production capacity.
What is the equivalent in your firm?
It’s unlikely you need more capacity but surely you could benefit from improving your (or your people’s) skills. Ask what skills are missing or in what areas does your team underperform, and then go find online training to help develop those skills.
Set some pandemic-wide goals for moving skills or knowledge in areas A & B from level X to level Y.
Do you have people in project management roles who have never been trained in project management? What about new business and current account growth? (Shameless plug here, all Win Without Pitching training is now delivered online.)
Time management, interpersonal communication skills, presentations, technical knowledge, deeper understanding of your clients’ businesses, etc. etc. etc.—the list is virtually endless, as are the resources available for training, and many of those are free!
Identify who needs to improve what skills then find the training for them or—even better—ask your people to identify their own areas of improvement and develop their own plans. You can allocate budget or ask them to use only free resources and then get them to report on their progress.
If you’re keeping under-utilized people on the payroll and not working to improve their skills you are wasting a valuable opportunity to up-skill.
Future Regret #4: “I should have updated my strategy/positioning/business model for the new reality.”
For this regret I’m going to attempt to predict the future and of course, I’m likely to be wrong in some way, so use your judgement, but hear me out.
In my first pandemic post Three Steps to Surviving and Thriving In a Crisis (God, that feels like a lifetime ago…) I talked about planning for the short term, midterm and long term. The short term was the shock and economic gridlock. We’re just through that now and easing into the new midterm reality of a world with little travel or public gatherings I said would possibly last for up to a year.
I now think it’s more likely to be 18 to 24 months. I hope I’m wrong but I’m making operational decisions in my own business on the assumption that few people are travelling or gathering in 2020 or 2021. I think you should do the same.
Your future regret, I believe, is going to be around thinking that things will return to normal soon (within a year) and the new normal is going to look a lot like the old normal (a prediction I made in my original post I now believe to be wrong).
I think you are safer to assume a world with limited travel and gatherings for 24 months and then ask “what needs to change about my business to accommodate this new reality?”
Pivoting to an entirely new market is going to be very difficult and in most cases would be unwise. (I discuss this in the original post as well.)
It’s more likely you have to move to adjacent services for the same clients, but you should also be evaluating new business models, which, in addition to revisiting your discipline and market, would have you re-evaluate how you deliver those services and the unit economics (what and how you price).
For some helpful ideas on how to adapt, read my last post Play The Game of Constraints. But maybe take some time off first then revisit this list with some renewed energy for the tasks ahead. When all this is over I’d love to hear from you that you have no regrets.